Tag Archives | homemade soup

Homemade Vegetable Soup Base

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My mom’s cousin Amy has a story she likes to tell, of learning to make chicken soup from her mother-in-law many years ago. They had met for the cooking lesson and Amy did as she was instructed, putting the chicken in the pot with carrots, onion and celery. Ingredients assembled, one mystery remained. “But how does it become soup? Where does the soupy part come from?”

Wordlessly, her mother-in-law pointed at the faucet. Amy’s mind was blown. (She went on to become an skilled and prolific soup maker. We all have to start somewhere!)

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Making soup is really the act of giving flavor and substance to water. It’s an act of magical transmutation that you can eat for dinner. Do you see now why it’s one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen? (Besides making jam, of course!)

I’m heading off into fanciful waters here, when really what I want to tell you about is the homemade vegetable soup base that I make in batches and keep in the fridge. It is one of my favorite tools for starting the transformation of water into soup (I also keep both the chicken and beef varieties of Better than Bouillon in my fridge, for when I want a meatier boost for my concoctions).

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It’s relatively cheap to make, keeps forever (and honestly, just gets more interesting the longer it’s been in the fridge), and brings round, robust flavor to all manner of soups and stews. It’s also my secret weapon for days when I’ve been out and need a healthy lunch immediately.

I boil a little water in a small pot and stir in a couple teaspoons of soup base until it dissolves. I add a handful of chopped greens (spinach, arugula, chard, or kale) and once they wilt, break an egg into the pot. Then I it off the heat and let it sit for three or four minutes, to give the egg a little time to cook. I eat it out of the pot with a spoon and feel grateful for good food.

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Now before you start praising me and calling me a genius, I must tell you, the idea behind this soup base is not the work of my personal brilliance. I’ve seen it in many places over the years.

Like Heidi, I first spotted it in the River Cottage Preserves Book when it was initially published in the US. Then this piece on dear, departed Culinate riffed on Heidi’s version. Jennie has a version on her blog and in her lovely book, Homemade With Love.

My version is a bit different than those from whom I’ve taken inspiration. Yours can be too. The only ingredient that is non-negotiable is the salt. You need it for both flavor and preservative power.

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Dark Days: Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

soup with kale

I’m coming to realize that during the winter months, Sunday is nearly synonymous with soup in my brain. Here in Philly, it barely got above 30 degrees today, making soup doubly necessary. Luckily, I had everything I needed in my pantry and freezer to make a big pot of sausage, kale and white bean soup.

navy beans

First step was to break out the pressure cooker and cook off two and a half cups of navy beans. I bought these lovely little white beans at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market last fall and have had them tucked into a jar since then. To be perfectly honest though, I don’t know for sure whether they’re locally grown. The woman who operates this particular stall isn’t the most friendly and so I rarely try to engage her in conversation. I realize, though, that it’s poor locavore behavior on my part.

Side note about navy beans. I spent years thinking that since they had the word navy in their name, that meant that they were navy in color (somehow I never connected those small, creamy beans my mom put into soup with the name “navy”). It wasn’t until I was far past voting age that I learned that they were actually essentially white beans and were called that because they were commonly served to sailors. Live and learn.

Anyway, 2 1/2 cups of navy beans, cooked with 6 1/2 cups of water in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes will give you six cups of tender beans, which just happens to be an ideal amount for this soup.

two quarts of ham stock

For the liquid component, I used two quarts of the ham stock I pressure canned last July. Lately, I’ve been really working on using the foods I’ve preserved (I get so excited about stocking my pantry that I sometimes forget that preserved food needs to be in near constant rotation) and so having an opportunity to use some of my canned stock was an added boon when making this soup. It’s also great because I know that the ham hocks I used to make that stock were local and humanely raised.

carrots celery onion garlic sausage

The soup started in the same way that many of my soups start. One minced onion, three fat carrots (diced) and four celery ribs (that darn celery is the only non-local component in this soup. I wasn’t thinking when I added it.) diced and sauteed in some fat/oil. I used some of my local lard (when my porcine-free mother reads this post, I am certain she will cringe at the number of pork products that went into this meal) but you could use also happily use olive oil. As the veggies browned and softened, I crushed and minced four big garlic cloves and the leaves from one sprig of rosemary and added them to the pot.

Once the veggies had some color, I created a well in the center and added two pounds of fennel sausage (set free from its casing) from the Meadow Run Farm buying club. I am addicted to this sausage. It has great flavor, is relatively lean and comes from those same happy, local pigs that provided the hocks that made the ham stock. Two pounds of sausage makes this a very meaty soup. Next time I make it, I will probably cut the meat by half. However, right at the moment, my husband is doing phase one of the South Beach Diet, and so I went a little heavier than normal on the protein for him.

After the meat was cooked and stirred into the veggies, I added the ham stock and beans, but the lid on and allowed the soup a bit of simmer time.

washed kale

I recently joined Winter Harvest, which is a wintertime buying club here in the Philly-area, run by Farm to City. It is a terrific way to get reasonably priced local produce, meat and dairy when most of the area farmers markets are shuttered for the season. In my first order, I got red and yellow onions, some sweet little beets, vividly orange-yolked eggs, a gallon of raw milk and the bundle of kale you see above.

Kale is one of my favorite vegetables, particularly because it can be prepared raw or cooked. It plays really well in soup and was a shining star in this particular batch. Stripped from the stem, I washed the leaves well (nothing makes a dish sadder than sandy grit from poorly washed greens) and chopped them to bits (first, fine ribbons. Then, rotate the board 90 degrees for bittage). I stirred the chopped greens into the soup during the last fifteen minutes of cooking.

kale stems

Had I planned better, I would have stripped the stems from the kale sooner, cut them into small bits and sauteed them with the onions, carrots and celery (probably would have been a good substitute for the non-local celery, too). Sadly, I didn’t think that far in advance and so ended up pitching the stems. However, they are quite edible (my mom likes to eat them raw with a bit of hummus).

When the soup was finished, it was deliciously warm, filling and happily, almost entirely local (particularly if you skip over the celery and don’t look too closely at my beans). If you’re not a pork person, you could easily substitute turkey sausage and some homemade chicken stock. It wouldn’t have that smoky flavor that the ham stock lends, but would still be quite delicious (although, now I’m wondering about making stock with smoked turkey wings. Could be delicious and just the thing for the pork avoiders in the crowd).

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